Under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, you are protected from warrantless searches by law enforcement officials in places where you have a reasonable expectation of privacy (e.g., your home). It can be difficult to determine which places warrant this expectation.
For example, you may think you have a reasonable expectation of privacy in your vehicle. However, the court in Carroll v. U.S. created an exception to allow cops to search your vehicle without a warrant if they have probable cause to believe that the vehicle contains drugs, drug paraphernalia, or other evidence of a crime. The reason for this is that the vehicle is mobile, meaning that the vehicle could be moved in the time it takes for officers to obtain a warrant.
What is probable cause?
Probable cause refers to the reasonable belief based on the totality of the circumstances that someone was involved in a crime or that a property contains evidence of criminal activity. A hunch or a feeling is not enough to constitute probable cause. The officer must have solid reasons to back up their belief.
If an officer searches your vehicle without a warrant or probable cause, any evidence found in the search may be excluded from the case against you.
Can law enforcement search the entire vehicle?
The scope of the search is limited to areas where the officer reasonably believes there is evidence of a crime.
For example, if an officer is searching for a large stolen item, they do not have probable cause to search the glove box, as there is no way the item could fit in there. On the other hand, if the officer only has probable cause to search a container for drugs located in the vehicle, they will only be allowed to search that container, not the rest of the vehicle.
Officers also have the right to seize evidence located in plain sight without a warrant, under the plain view doctrine.
If you have been charged for a drug offense, you may be able to defend yourself by claiming that the search of your vehicle was unlawful. An attorney in the Kansas City area can review your case and help build your defense.